Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Would You Want Your Government to Protect You?

Just imagine that you live in an American community adjacent to a Native American reservation. Now, imagine that the elected leadership of that reservation argues that land belonging to Native Americans was stolen by American settlers and the American government. Finally, imagine that the police force for that Native American reservation began launching rockets from reservation land into your community and that from the time that those rockets were launched it took just 15 seconds for them to reach their terminus in your community, on your street, or in your home. How would you explain the situation to your children as they screamed in fear in your basement? Would you want the American government to simply agree to give back all of your community's land to the Native Americans? What if the Native Americans wanted not just your community, but all of America? Or, would you want your government to protect you and your family and take efforts to be sure that the rocket fire stopped?

Now, suppose for a moment that the reservation was no longer under the control of your government. Suppose that the charter of the reservation provided that the only outcome that would satisfy that the Native Americans was your complete destruction and a statement that negotiation was worthless. Suppose also that the reservation bordered a foreign country (Mexico or Canada, I suppose) that allowed weapons to be transported into that reservation to be used against you. And suppose that, in addition to the rockets, members of the Native American tribe would occasionally sneak into your community with explosives strapped to their bodies and blow themselves up in pizza parlors, nightclubs, shopping malls, and bus stations. Again, would you want the American government to give up land for a promise of peace or would you expect your government to protect you?

Finally, imagine that both the American government and the international community had provided the government of the reservation with billions of dollars to improve the living conditions on the reservation but that the leaders of the reservation had used that money to purchase weapons and to enrich themselves but had used little, if any, to improve the lives of the average resident of the reservation. And suppose that the leaders of the reservation fought vicious battles with the leaders of another reservation who at least might want to negotiate a peaceful resolution. Suppose that the leaders of the reservation taught their children that killing your children was something that they should aspire to. Suppose also, that the international community and the media only talked about the harsh realities of life on the reservation and continued to blame you for those conditions. How would that make you feel?

In case you haven't figured it out by now, the preceding is a pretty good re-telling of the current situation between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Go back and read the scenario again, but substitute Israel for America, Palestinians for Native Americans, Gaza Strip for the reservation, and Egypt for Canada or Mexico. Has your viewpoint suddenly changed? If so, why? What makes Israel subject to a different standard of conduct than that which you would apply to our own government and our own behavior with Native Americans? If you're English, why should Israel be subject to a different standard than applied to Great Britain with its dispute with the IRA? (This morning I was listening to the BBC World Service and one of the hosts compared the bombardment of southern Israel by Hamas rockets to the terrorist attacks from the IRA; I would suggest that his comparison was misplaced as the IRA attacks were usually targeted rather than random and the IRA was not launching 100 attacks per day.)

Israelis have been living with an ongoing barrage of missiles from Gaza (not to mention suicide bombings and other terrorist acts). It takes just 15 seconds for a rocket fired from Gaza to reach the town of Sderot.

It is also worth noting that the rockets being fired from Gaza are not targeted missiles with sophisticated guidance systems. Instead, they are crude instruments that are simply pointed in a given direction and are, thus, indiscriminate in their "targeting".

Hamas doesn't recognize the right of the State of Israel to even exist, so how is Israel to "negotiate" with Hamas who has said that they will accept nothing less than all of the land that comprises Israel. In fact, the Charter of Hamas says: "There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors." The Hamas Charter even references the historical forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as "proof" an a "Zionist" plot for world domination:

The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying.
With the current fighting, many simply refer to the "cycle of violence" or the "vicious cycle". The problem with these approaches is that they create a moral equivalence in the type of conduct and refuse to make distinctions for purpose of the conduct. Consider the following, for example: If you see a man walk into a crowd firing indiscriminately, mowing down women and children, and you shoot that man to stop his rampage, is your conduct morally different than his? And if his family then attempts to kill your children in an act of revenge and your wife shoots and kills those family members as they enter your home, is their conduct morally equivalent? And after this back-and-forth continues for a period of time, when the police intervene and try to arrest the perpetrators and planners and a shoot-out results, are the actions of the police morally equivalent to those of the perpetrators? Yet moral equivalence for different types of conduct is what the phrase "cycle of violence" creates when applied to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. When you attack me and I defend myself by trying to stop you from attacking me, there is no cycle of violence at all.

And, most importantly, remember that the alleged "cycle of violence" could be brought to an end via negotiation. Israel has always been willing to negotiate, has given up land for peace, has unilaterally disengaged from certain land, and has offered the Palestinians almost everything (but not quite) that they demanded. Yet that was never enough. Without going back too deep into the depths of history, recall too, that Israel accepted the UN partition plan; the Palestinians and Arab nations did not and they attacked the fledgling State of Israel. And lost.

I contend that there is an enormous difference between firing a rocket at a civilian area and a targeted missile strike against a terrorist training camp. I contend that there is an enormous difference between the suicide bomber with a belt of explosives and ball bearings dipped in rat poison who kills himself and innocent civilians in a pizza parlor and the assassination of the terrorist who built the bomb and planned the bombing. I contend that there is a differtence between a culture that tells people to "martyr" themselves in suicide bombings and a culture that encourages peace and open dialogue. And I contend that there is an enormous difference between the government that says "we don't recognize your right to exist and will continue our armed struggle until you cease to exist" and the government that says "we want to live in peace with our neighbors but, if necesssary, will act to protect our citizens".

I could go on at length about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I could talk about Pallywood (the Palestinian "industry" of creating faked confrontations or staging atrocities to inflame prejudice against Israel). I could talk about the ridiculous misinformation that comes from Palestinian sources that is often swallowed, without comment or question, by the media (remember the "massacre" in Jenin that was widely reported, yet even the UN had to later admit that no massacre had occurred). I could talk about the horrible instances of anti-Semitism that are endemic in Palestinian education (not to mention education throughout much of the Arab and Muslim world) such as the frequent re-telling of the Blood Libel (the suggestion that Jews drink Muslim blood as a part of religious rituals) or airing on government-run TV a mini-series based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I could talk about the charitable efforts of Israel (Israeli hospitals will treat any patient without regard to whether the patient is Israeli or Palestinian, Jew or Muslim; Israel offered to send assistance to Iran following an earthquake a year or two ago, but the offer was rejected) or the corrupt Palestinian government structures that enrich their leaders while many Palestinians still live in "refugee" camps (you could ask why refugee camps still exist givent that the Palestinian authority has controlled those areas since the mid-'90s). I could talk about Israeli efforts to have open and honest discussion and debate about history and the impact upon the current situation and the Palestinian efforts to rewrite even basic history that cannot, in the exercise of intellectual honesty, really be disputed (for example, Yasser Arafat famously claimed that there was no historical evidence of Jewish links to Jerusalem; of course that allegation directly impacts Christianity, too). I could talk about the unfair treatment meted out by the United Nations and other international organizations. (Did you know that until 2006 the International Committee of the Red Cross recognized the Red Crescent in Islamic countries by not Magen David Adom [the Red Star of David] in Israel? Even today, the Red Star of David is only recognized for use in Israel while a special Red Diamond is to be used for relief work outside of Israel.) I could talk about how Hamas treats a captured Israeli soldier (refusing to even allow the International Red Cross to ascertain his condition and holding public demonstrations where the captured soldier is ridiculed). I could go through nearly a century of history that so few really know or understand (or seem to care to understand).

Instead, I will finish by asking again this one simple question: Why is Israel, among all nations in the world, held to a different standard in its conduct?

I've obviously got lots of things to say about the Israeli-Palestinian (Arab-Israeli) conflict in general and the current conflict in particular, but I'll save that for another day.


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